In this week’s parasha, a man named Korach and his faction rebels and God seems prepared to annihilate the entire people in retaliation (Numbers 16:21). Although Moses and Aaron succeed in talking God out of such a drastic response, the question remains how could God in the first place have imagined it just to punish all for the sake of the misdeeds of a few?
Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai taught that Korach’s rebellion may be compared to a situation of people together in a boat, and one of them took a drill and began to drill a hole beneath himself. His companions said to him, “Why are you doing this?” He replied, “What concern is it of yours? Am I not drilling under myself?” They replied, “But you will flood the boat for us all!”
Meting out collective punishment would indeed be unjust, and God relents from this injustice immediately upon the intercession of Moses and Aaron. However, God’s initial response may teach us about something else: collective responsibility. Community entails, on some level, shared destiny. There are times and circumstances in which, like it or not, we find ourselves “all in the same boat.” Taking responsibility for one another doesn’t necessarily end with helping each other out. It may also include accepting responsibility for one another by suffering together should one among us fail. We should always strive to be supportive. Sometimes, support may include taking away the drill.
Rabbi Mitch Levine